Commentary: The shortcomings of the Electoral College are too significant to ignore

A map of red Republican, blue Democratic, and gray swing states in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. (Graphic by Qba0202 / CC BY 3.0)

By Christo Maheras, Commentary Writer

Election after election, we celebrate the ceremonious coloring of the states as a pillar of our democracy. Among the red and blue, Democrat and Republican, some grey swing states capture media and voter attention. State colors have long encouraged political posturing. Candidates solely focusing on the states that will bring them to the all-coveted 270 electoral college votes is one of many reasons why the Electoral College is unethical, undemocratic, and should be replaced as the means by which our nation elects its presidents.

Before explaining the shortcomings of the electoral college, one must understand its origins. The electoral college emerged as a compromise during the 1787 Constitutional Convention among other ideas such as the popular vote and the vote of Congress. It was decided that states would be designated “electors” who would award their electoral votes, equal to the number of its congressional members, based on how their states voted for president. 

One would assume that the electors would award their votes proportionally to the popular vote of the presidential candidates within their states, but this only applies in Maine and Nebraska. Instead, most electors award all of their state’s votes in a winner-takes-all format, a practice that has engendered perennial calls for its replacement. 

The Electoral College faced criticism from its inception by Founding Fathers like James Madison, who asserted, “The popular vote is the fittest way to elect a president.” There have been 700 attempts to replace or alter the electoral college, which begs the question: why are people opposed to this system?

Our analysis begins at the swing states. With many U.S. states being considered “locks” for a certain party, the media and the candidates divert their attention to the swing states. According to NPR, the Biden and Trump campaigns spent in excess of $104 million in advertisements in 10 swing states, compared to the $59.1 million spent on all other states. 

The inequity in spending between states finds many forgotten voters, encouraging politicians to take votes for granted. This often carries over into a president’s term, illustrated by Donald Trump. According to Factbase, Trump neglected to visit a total of eight states during his presidency, instead visiting swing states a total of 288 times. Of the eight states that Trump did not visit, he lost an average of 237,000 votes, indicating that candidates should garner support from the people. At the moment, the vote of the people does not matter, as candidates only seek to gain the necessary 270 electoral college votes.

If the United States were to replace the Electoral College with a system that accounts for the majority vote of the population, our government would run with more consistency. When debates about the Electoral College arise, a common rebuttal is: “America is not a democracy.” While our Constitution does not say the United States shall be a democracy, it outlines an overall use of democratic procedure. 

The way we introduce and pass laws in Congress is through a majority-rule system where 51% of votes are needed to pass a law, excluding executive orders. In the Supreme Court, a 5-4 majority is needed to overturn or uphold a ruling. Additionally, in congressional elections and judicial confirmation hearings, congressmen and justices are subjected to a majority vote from constituents and from the Senate. With the three branches of government having “checks and balances,” why is the executive branch immune from a majority-rule system? 

The only reasonable conclusion is that the Electoral College is blatantly undemocratic. Some states have taken steps to mitigate the electoral college through the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). The 15 states that have signed this compact, 36% of the electorate, have promised to allocate their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote once enough states sign to guarantee that outcome. 

So what other options do we have in electing our presidents? The first option is the popular vote. It is completely viable from a standpoint of democracy and fairness as it takes into account the majority of the population. Moreover, according to Time, city growth is stalling and suburban populations are booming, rendering the rebuttal that cities would decide elections through the popular vote obsolete. 

The second option has picked up tremendous steam in the past 10 years: ranked-choice voting. The first and second choices of every voter are recorded so that if their first choice drops out, they still have representation. Many cities have used this method, including San Francisco, the 16th-most populous city in the United States. 

If the United States is to serve as a bastion of democratic values, a leader among world nations, we must take measures to ensure the longevity of and participation in democracy. Addressing the faults of the Electoral College would be a critical first step.

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